Off the Record: Unlawful Influence on the War Crimes Proceedings

This is the second post in a blog series by Dr Kasey McCall-Smith examines some of the crucial legal issues and broader public questions raised regarding the US v. Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, et. al. military commission proceedings against the five men charged with various war crimes and terrorism in relation to the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US. The series is part of her project ‘Torture on Trial’ and funded by a grant from the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

In the 9/11 war crimes trial taking place in Guantánamo, an array of motions have been filed regarding unlawful influence on the US v. Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, et. al.(9/11 case) proceedings. They began with complaints regarding statements by then-President Obama and continue to the present with complaints regarding President Trump, Secretary of Defense Mattis, former Attorneys General Sessions and Holder and CIA Director Gina Haspel. These motions, all based on section 949b of the 2009 Military Commissions Act, cover a range of statements and actions.

During the April-May 2018 proceedings, the influence of current US President Trump was raised as lawyers debated the influence of statements made by Trump as the commander in chief of the US military. The relevant statements focused on the president’s response to the Bowe Bergdahl v. US courts martialand also the 31 October 2017 New York incident where an alleged terrorist drove a van onto a bike path killing eight people. Trump’s statements on the campaign trail and after his election were also potentially problematic for the 9/11case and attacked the integrity of the military justice system. His statements and twitter posts explicitly called into question the administration of justice and constitutional protections in the US. Defence counsel in the 9/11 war crimes tribunal argue that collectively these successive statements by US presidents and other government officials equate to unlawful influence (UI), a concept drawn from provisions in the US Uniform Code of Military Justice prohibiting Unlawful Command Influence (UCI). UI is a concept set out in 10 USC §837 and article 37 of the UCMJ and is deemed the ‘mortal enemy’ of military justice and also violates due process as guaranteed by the US Constitution and the right to a fair trial under Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The concept applies here as the governing law of the trial is theMilitary Commissions Act 2009 (MCA 2009) – combining rules of military, domestic and international law – and the president is the constitutional Commander-in-Chief of the US military.

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Off the Record: Observations on the 9/11 Military Commission

This blog series by Dr Kasey McCall-Smith examines some of the crucial legal issues and broader public questions raised regarding the US v. Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, et. al. military commission proceedings against the five men charged with various war crimes and terrorism in relation to the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US. The military commissions are in the sixth year of the pretrial phase and taking place at a purpose-built Expeditionary Legal Complex in Camp Justiceon Naval Station Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The series is part of her project ‘Torture on Trial’ and funded by a grant from the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Taking a Step Back – A Primer on the International Prohibition against Torture

Many members of the public not trained in international law fail to understand why the international prohibition against torture matters or should matter in the US legal system. This post seeks to explain how international law on the prohibition against torture relates to US law and the impact of the prohibition on the military commission proceedings against the five men charged with conspiracy and war crimes in relation to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US in US v. Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, et. al.(9/11 case).

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Shaking Hands in Dayton and Singapore: Symbolic Representations of Peace Processes

In this post, PSRP researcher Laura Wise reflects on symbolic representations of handshake moments at high-level peace summits, and what we miss when we consistently focus on comprehensive peace agreements. This is a longer version of remarks delivered at the IICR 2nd Annual Conference ‘Networked Cultures: Translations, Symbols, and Legacies’, as part of a session convened by the IICR Cultures of Peace and Violence Network. PSRP and the Global Justice Academy are proud members of this interdisciplinary network that enables discussions on how symbolic representations constrain or facilitate cultures of peace and violence, and we look forward to participating in future events. 

Kim and Trump shaking hands on the red carpet during the DPRK-USA Singapore Summit on 12 June 2018

Handshake moments are currently a hot topic, as journalists rush to interpret the symbolism of the Singapore Summit between North Korea and the United States. From the diplomatic menu to the moment the leaders of each country make physical contact, no aspects of negotiation process are above being scrutinized for what they can tell us about the potential for achieving peace. Meanwhile, participants and commentators often hail the agreements themselves as historic and comprehensive even before crucial details of a done deal are released to the public, with parties keen to credit themselves as having achieved what no other figure has managed to do thus far.

Over twenty years ago, another high-level summit was capturing the world’s attention, as leaders from the former Yugoslavia and other interested parties gathered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, to negotiate yet another comprehensive peace plan for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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The Shadows of Torture: Reporting from Guantánamo

This series of blogs presents a number of the legal issues raised at the April – May 2018 military commission proceedings against the alleged plotters of the 11 September 2001 (9/11) terror attacks against the US in the case of US v. Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, et. al. taking place at Camp Justice, Guantánamo Bay Naval Station, Cuba.

The author, Dr Kasey McCall-Smith, is conducting a research project entitled Torture on Trial, which is funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

1. The Shadows of Torture

When people speak about torture and the war on terror, the most egregious and publicly decried acts generally pop to mind: waterboarding, walling, sleep deprivation, and so on. As the military commission proceedings in case of US v. Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, et. al. (KSM case) unfold, less examined examples aspects of torture reveal the irreversible physical and mental impacts on victims of such abuse.

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What are the Politics of Sports Protests in Trump America?

The Global Justice Academy recently attended an event at the Academy of Sport with visiting professor, Professor Lucia Trimbur (City University of New York; John Jay College of Criminal Justice), on the politics of sports protests in Trump America. The event was part of a collaboration between the Edinburgh Social and Political Sports Research Forum, the Academy of Sport and Moray House School of Education and Sport. Our Communications Intern, Heather Milligan, reflects on the findings and implications of this event.

In her presentation, Professor Trimbur invited audiences to consider the commitment of athletes (and their fans) to political movements, particularly those resistant to the Trump administration and its policies. Trimbur examined sports players’ capacity to struggle against pervasive inequality by denying the status quo, and suggested that modern sporting environments can foster political debates and alliances that may otherwise be inconceivable – illustrating her case with three case studies of American sporting events from the past year. Of particular interest to the Global Justice Academy was the focus Trimbur’s examples had on tackling discrimination and racial violencegender justice and sexism.

Trimbur drew first on Colin Kaepernick’s repeated refusals to stand for the American national anthem before play, which Kaepernick himself explained as a protest against the oppression of ethnic minorities in the US and the country’s continued failure to address police brutality:

‘I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour […] To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder’. [NFL]

Rather than be complicit, Kaepernick instead acted to ally himself with, and provide a platform for, America’s oppressed – an act that inspired players of every level to join him in subsequent games across the country.

In being explicitly pro-American and pro-military, Kaepernick’s stance raised interesting questions about the place of patriotism in contemporary America. Rather than alienating or accusing proud Americans, Kaepernick encouraged them to question what the American flag truly represents: pointing to unification and equality at a time of wall-building isolationism. His protest was not an attack on America, but a plea to return to its core ideals; his drive towards dialogue as a means of improving the lived experience of Black Americans also served to posit inequality as the responsibility of all Americans.

Trimbur’s next case study was the USA Women’s Hockey team, who in March 2017 announced they would boycott the world championship, demanding equitable pay and better training conditions and support by the league. The team’s demands for women’s sport to be treated as seriously and professionally as men’s received massive media attention and support, until the pressure placed on USA Hockey was so great that the team were able to secure a four-year wage agreement, including the formation of a women’s high performance advisory team, as well as marketing and publicity. These clauses crucially aimed to protect and enable the future of girl’s and women’s hockey programming and funding, seeking a legacy far greater than one team’s pay rise.

In a similar vein, Tom Brady and numerous other players for the New England Patriots football team, having won the 2017 Super Bowl, announced that they would not make the customary travel arrangements to meet with the President, in protest of Trump’s gender politics and treatment of women. The Patriots’ demonstration reinforced the idea that challenging gender inequality is not just the responsibility of women activists, but of men too, and urged fellow players to actively use their platform and privilege to encourage change. The players aimed to provide alternative images of masculinity – ones that challenged, rather than enabled sexism and sexual assault – to combat the patriarchal domination of sports spaces, and players and fans alike encouraged traditionally misogynistic spaces like locker rooms to be rethought of as open public spaces for debate and discussion, in which all speakers can be held accountable. Once again, the protesters appealed to American family values and the importance of crafting a more equal world for future generations. In refusing to be associated with Trump and right-wing politics, the Patriots aimed to change the dominant narrative of misogyny, racism, lying and assault to one of inclusion, kindness and equality.

In light of this encouraging perspective on sports protests as presenting possibilities for progressive futures, the Global Justice Academy looks to the future of interdisciplinary collaborations that reach beyond the political sphere alone. It is the sporting element of these protests that made them so contentious, with many commenting on the potential inappropriateness of politicising sport – however, sport’s central place in American society makes it a crucial platform for dialogue. Provoked by such protests, discussions taking place in and around sporting environments were forced to confront the reality of institutional racism and gender inequality in the US. These protests utilised sports grounds to encourage communication and cooperation across race, class and gender divides.

A video podcast of Professor Trimbur’s talk has been provided by the Academy of Sport and is available at the following link: http://www.ed.ac.uk/education/institutes/spehs/academy-of-sport/dialogue/edinburgh-toronto-public-talks/what-are-the-politics-of-sports-protests-in-trump

Will Business Interests ‘Trump’ Human Rights?

Sean Molloy is a Principal’s Scholar in Law, reading for a PhD at Edinburgh Law School. Sean researches the relationship between business and human rights, and contributes to the LLM in Human Rights as a guest lecturer. In this post, he considers what a Trump presidency might mean for human rights and how this applies to businesses in the USA.

As the world comes to terms with the shock election of Donald Trump, our thoughts quickly turn to the implications of the choice of the American people (or more precisely the electoral colleges). From issues such as US foreign policy in Syria to US relations with Russia, the rights of Muslims and Mexicans, to abortion and the rights of women, both America and the world are left in a state of unease and uncertainty as to what the next four (or possibly even eight) years hold. As the dust settles, further potential consequences on other thus far unmentioned rights-related issues become the topics of thought. One such issue is that of Business and Human Rights (BHR) and in particular what Trump’s election might mean for the protection of rights in respect of the actions of businesses both in America and in regards to American companies operating abroad (see generally Business and Human Rights Resource Centre).

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Getting to Grips with Guantánamo IV: Person Zero & Camp 7

KMSThis post is by Kasey McCall-Smith: a lecturer in Public International Law and programme director for the LLM in Human Rights at Edinburgh Law School.

This post is the fourth in a series of blogs that chronicle the history and current state of play regarding the US rendition and detention programme in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. They were written during the author’s visit to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to observe military commission proceedings in the case of USA v. Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, et. al.  30 May – 3 June 2016, which is the initial phase of her project Getting to Grips with Guantánamo.

In my last post, the use of evidence obtained through torture in the case of US v. Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, et. al. (KSM case) was introduced. This post further considers how torture impacts detainees held at Guantánamo and the 9/11 trial. An interesting addition to the already complex pre-trial considerations is the possible appearance of a detainee who has not been seen in public since he was rendered into the custody of the CIA. Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian, is believed to have been taken into CIA custody in 2002 following his capture in Pakistan. After three years on a CIA ‘black site’, he was delivered to Joint Task Force-Guantánamo (JTF-GTMO) in 2006 where he remains a High Value Detainee (HVD) despite never having been charged with a crime. As characterised by former FBI agent, Ali Soufan, Zubaydah is the ‘original sin’ of the US in its post-9/11 anti-terror campaign.

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Getting to Grips with Guantánamo III: Torture Evidence

KMSThis post is by Kasey McCall-Smith: a lecturer in Public International Law and programme director for the LLM in Human Rights at Edinburgh Law School.

This post is the third in a series of blogs that chronicle the history and current state of play regarding the US rendition and detention programme in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. They were written during the author’s visit to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to observe military commission proceedings in the case of USA v. Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, et. al.  30 May – 3 June 2016, which is the initial phase of her project Getting to Grips with Guantánamo.

Right now, on a small island in the Caribbean, what will ultimately be one of the most comprehensive examinations of torture is taking place in the form of a military commission proceeding in the case of US v. Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, et. al. (KSM case). A common understanding among the observers that are witnessing KSM is that half are there to see the 9/11 trial and half are there to see the torture trial. In anticipation of what many view as a foregone conclusion, the defence lawyers are diligently representing their clients in order to ensure that if the ultimate penalty, death, is pursued in the sentencing phase of the trial; then the brutality that they suffered at the hands of the CIA is in the trial record. This record will be instrumental to mitigation of the death penalty and speak to the reality that much of the evidence presented may have been extracted or derived through torture, which is prohibited under international law.

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Getting to Grips with Guantánamo II: Military Commissions & Law of War Detention

KMSThis post is by Kasey McCall-Smith: a lecturer in Public International Law and programme director for the LLM in Human Rights at Edinburgh Law School.

This post is the second in a series of blogs that chronicle the history and current state of play regarding the US rendition and detention programme in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. They were written during the author’s visit to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to observe military commission proceedings in the case of USA v. Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, et. al.  30 May – 3 June 2016, which is the initial phase of her project Getting to Grips with Guantánamo. Click here to read the first post in the series: ‘Rendition to the Caribbean’.

The military commission proceeding against the 9/11 five in the case of US v. Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, et. al. (KSM case) is viewed as having parallel purposes, bringing justice to the nation and victims’ families for the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and laying bare the flagrant torture campaign under the US Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) post-9/11 Detention and Interrogation Program (DIP). The KSM case stems from charges filed on 31 May 2011 against the five men charged with conspiracy, murder and destruction of property in violation of the law of war for the conception and facilitation of the 9/11 attacks which resulted in the deaths of close to 3000 people. The subsequent ‘war on terror’ launched by the Bush administration in the aftermath set in motion a ruthless anti-terrorism campaign by the CIA that has been acknowledged by the US government as comprising widespread use of torture in breach of both US domestic law and international law.

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Getting to Grips with Guantánamo I: Rendition to the Caribbean

KMSThis post is by Kasey McCall-Smith: a lecturer in Public International Law and programme director for the LLM in Human Rights at Edinburgh Law School.

This post is the first in a series of blogs that chronicle the history and current state of play regarding the US rendition and detention programme in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. They were written during the author’s visit to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to observe military commission proceedings in the case of USA v. Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, et. al.  30 May – 3 June 2016, which is the initial phase of her project Getting to Grips with Guantánamo.

Following the attacks against the US on 9/11, then-President Bush declared open-season on all individuals with any established link to al Qaeda. In furtherance of the Bush declaration, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) commenced what would eventually prove to be the most egregious and calculated rendition and detention campaign in modern, post-WWII history. A campaign defined by blatant breaches of both US and international law. To this day, it serves as a black mark on America’s international image, and the resulting impact of the decisions taken by the Bush Administration in the early days of 2001 continue to resonate today.

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